The Disappearing Rainforest


Contents

Where are Rainforests found?

What is the Rainforest like?

Living in the Rainforest

Why are the Rainforests being destroyed?

What do people think about the destruction?

How will it affect the environment?

What can be done?

Glossary

Where are Rainforests found?

Rainforest once grew in 14 percent of the earth's land area, but now, due to deforestation, it grows in 6 to 7 percent. Although it is really only a very small area in comparison to the rest of the world, it is home to more than half the world's animal and plant species.

There are rainforests found in 85 different countries, but a third of them are found in Brazil alone. 57 percent of the rainforest is found in Latin America, 25 percent is found in South-east Asia and 18 percent is found in West Africa.

Rainforests are found between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. They are always found around the equator, the main reason for this is because they grow in very high temperatures with little change.

For printable map Click here.

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What is the Rainforest like?

The Rainforest is the oldest living ecosystem on Earth. Although the percentage of the Earth's land surface it grows in is so small, over half the world's plants and animals are found in it.

Climate

The most distinctive feature of the rainforest is its climate, is very hot, wet and humid. The temperature is the same, on average, throughout the year. Because the rainforests grow on the equator, the sun is always shining directly down, this means that the temperature doesn't change because the sun is casting even rays on heat and sunlight at all times during the day. As the rainforest is on the equator, the temperature is high, because the sun rays are concentrated on a small area, meaning there is more heat, but because the understory is in the shade of the Canopy the temperature is slightly cooler. On average, the temperature for the rainforest is approximately 25°C.

The rainforest is a very hot but humid place. The average humility found in the rainforest is between 77 percent to 88 percent, however it has been known to go up as high as 100 percent. Because the air is so humid, very little water vapour escapes from the rainforest. Unlike most parts of the world where rain is brought by winds from other areas, 50 percent of the rainfall in the rainforest is water that has evaporated from the rainforest then cooled and condensed back into rain.

Daily Rainfall

The sun rises every morning at 6 a.m. and begins to warm the ground. By midday, the sun is highest and hottest and water evaporates from the ground and the plants and trees. The warm air rises and as the water vapour gets higher it begins to cool and condense into droplets in the atmosphere, forming clouds called cumulus clouds. The clouds block the sun and the temperature decreases. The sudden change in temperature causes the cumulonimbus storm clouds to occurs. The atmosphere can no longer contain the masses of moisture and it falls as heavy rain. This type of rainfall is called convectional rainfall.

The rainforest, besides being very hot, is also very wet. It gets its name from the 'rain' that falls without fail every afternoon. The amount of rainfall the rainforest gets per year greatly varies, there can be as much as 9 meters of rain or as little as 1.8 meters of rain per year. Although a lot of rain falls on the rainforest each day, only a small drizzle ever reaches the understory. Most of the rain is intercepted by the canopy where it is absorbed or evaporates again back into water vapour.
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Animals

If you ever visit a rainforest, one of the things you are likely to notice is that it is never silent, whether day or night. This is because millions, even billions of animals living in the rain forest. The most common type of animal you are likely to see are insects. Ninety percent of the wildlife found are insects, scientists estimate there could be as many as 30 million different types, although no one can be sure for certain.
Other common animals you might see are worms, types reptiles like snakes and lizards, amphibians such as toads, birds like parrots or toucans and various mammals such as sloths and jaguars. You will also see a lot more primary consumers (animals that eat plants) than secondary consumers (animals that eat meat), one reason for this is probably because there are so many more plants that anything else, most animals have adapted to eat plants.

As the climate is so hot, wet and humid, the animals living in the rainforest have had to adapt to survive, not only against the climate but also against predators. The main ways animals in the rainforest have adapted are in camoflauge, slowness, disguise and poison.

Animals use camouflage to blend in with the background, such as leaves or trees, so it is difficult for them to be seen. If you ever visit the rainforest, it is likely that there will be thousands of animals all around you, watching you, but you won't see them because they blend into the background. One example of camouflage is stick insects which hang from branches looking like twigs or chameleons who can change the colour of their skin.

Many animals have also adapted to be slow, because it is harder for a predator to spot you if you are slowly moving to escape rather than quickly moving. By moving slowly you have less chance of discarding your camouflage and the predator has less chance of sensing you.

Animals often disguise themselves in order to escape predators. They try to convince the predator that they are a lot bigger or dangerous than they actually are. Some butterflies have wings with markings of large markings that look like eyes, so when they spread their wings they look like the head of some big animal to scare off the predators, and some animals have the brightly coloured patterns that animals with poisons have. Even though they don't have any poison, the predator thinks they do from the markings and can often be scared off.

Poison is used for both defence and capturing pray by animals. Some poisons animals use only last a few seconds, which just give them chance to escape. If the predator has captured them the will spray poison at them, often in the eyes, often these poisons can make the predator blind, momentarily or permanently. If an animal has poison it is often plain to see, their body will be colourfully marked with bright patterns. These come as a warning to the predator to stay away, or it could be fatal. Animals also have poisons that kill, like the poisonous fangs of a snake, which are deadly to both humans and animals alike

The rainforest is split into four different layers or strata: the forest floor, the understory, the canopy and the emergent layer. Different types of animals are found in each layer, but it is often very difficult to see many of them.

The Forest Floor

The forest floor is the lowest layer of the rainforest and is the floor of the rainforest. The main animals that live down on the floor are usually insects like ants and beetles and large mammals such as the jaguar, the gorilla and the aardvark. There is little vegetation growing on the forest floor because it gets very little sun and rain as the canopy blocks them out.

Animals are very important on the forest floor because the soil is so thin. It is important for dead plants, trees and leaves to be decomposed as quickly as possible so that the nutrients can go back into the soil, and although the darkness helps a little, the job of decomposing is mainly down to insects that live on the forest floor.

The Understory

The Understory is also very dark like the forest floor but not as dark. It is found in-between the forest floor and the canopy. Only two percent of light manages to get through the thick canopy, so the vegetation that is found in the Understory has had to adapt to cope with the low levels of light. Most plants in the Understory don't grow more than twelve feet, these small trees and plants have adapted by having very large leaves so they can absorb as much of the little light as they can and the undersides of their leaves are a red colour which helps to prevent light escaping. The main plants found in this midstory strata are woody vines, large shrubs and small trees and the main animals found in the Understory are creatures that can live on the trees, including many insects, arachnids, tree kangaroos, some small mammals and many different types of frog. In the lower parts of the Understory you also often find leopards.

The Canopy

The Canopy, also known as the overstory, is the main part of the rainforest, which receives all the light making it a lush green colour. The canopy is mainly around 30 meters in height, but it does vary from twenty meters to 50 meters from region to region. In this area, the trees branch out creating a leafy foliage a maize of branches and leaves, a roof over the Understory and the Forest floor preventing little sunlight and rain getting through.

This layer of the rainforest is streaming with life because it is bright and food is plentiful. Animals have to be very good at climbing if they want to live in the canopy as the trees are so high, if they cannot fly. The main animals found in the canopy are snakes, birds such as toucans and hornbills, many species of monkeys, apes, lemurs and butterflies.

The Emergent Layer

In this layer are found the tallest trees, called emergent. These trees can are usually a staggering 40 meter high, but they range from 35 meters to even a huge 70 meter. Trees that are strong enough to grow through the canopy create the emergent layer, but these are very rare, only about one percent of trees make it to this layer. There is plenty of sunlight in this layer, as there is nothing to stop the sun shining straight down on the emergent trees leaves. The animals found this high are mainly very strong flyers such as macaws, eagles, bats and surprisingly butterflies. There are also some moneys found in this layer.

Animals are not only found during the day, even at night the rainforest is never silent. There are many nocturnal animals found in the rainforest such as bats and owls, that hunt during the night. There are also many insects that only come out at night, meaning there is a constant buzz of chirping, throughout the day and night.

Animals are not only found during the day, even at night the rainforest is never silent. There are many nocturnal animals found in the rainforest such as bats and owls, that hunt during the night. There are also many insects that only come out at night, meaning there is a constant buzz of chirping, throughout the day and night.
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Plants

The most common thing found in the rainforest are the trees and plants. The plants and trees of the rainforest are useful in many different ways and many of the plants and fruits found in the house are likely to have originated in the
rainforest. When we destroy the rainforest we are losing a great deal more than we are earning and the rainforest is difficult to replace.

To say the rainforest has so many different types of plant life it is surprising how similar most of them are. All the trees look similar, having long smooth trunks and being branchless until they reach about 30 meters where they branch out forming the canopy, many trees are supported by the common feature of the buttress roots, and if they aren't they have the stilt and prop roots, most trees in the understory, for example the banana trees have very large leaves that can be up to ten times as large as the canopy trees leaves and many trees have long lianas or strangler figs growing on them. The main reason trees are very much alike is because of the environment and the way they have adapted.

The rainforest, to say the it is so lush and has so many different types of plants, has very poor soil. The soil is only a maximum of five meters in depth with rock being under that. Because the soil is so thin, the trees and plants in the rainforest have had to adapt, and there are several different things they have as a result of adaptation: Buttress roots, Linias, Large Leaves, Drip Tips, Prop and Slit Roots, Bark, Epiphytes, Bromeliads, Mangroves, Nepenthes, Saprophytes, Carnivorous Plants and Strangler Figs.

Buttress roots

Because the soil is so thin in depth, the trees have had to adapt Buttress roots in order to survive. Whereas trees found in most areas of the world grow in deep depths of soil with their roots going deep into the ground, the trees of the rainforest have developed massive thick roots near the base that grow out of the trunk and can be as long as 30 feet, these roots are Buttresses roots. Roots of trees are used to anchor the trees in place, and the bigger the tree is, the longer and deeper in the soil its roots need to be to keep it rigid, but with Buttress roots, the huge trees of the rainforest can keep upright without having roots that go down miles into the soil, this is because the buttress roots grow down into the soil, trapping it and keeping the tree in place. The rainforest trees do, however, have very long roots. These go for miles along the forest floor, not going down into the ground like most trees, but across the soil, which also help to keep the trees rigid and upright.

Lianas

Lianas are a type of plant that have adapted as a result of the rainforest having little space for plants to grow, and as it is as constant struggle for all plants to reach above the canopy for light. They are a type of vines that grow on the trees and have adapted by learning to use the trees to climb up and reach the sunlight, although many Linias start life in the rainforest's canopy to begin with and then send their roots down to the forest floor. These plants are useful for others because they take up little space, growing on other plants, and because the soil is so poor and many roots extend over it, it is very difficult for plants to find space to grow, so the little space plants take up, the better.

Large Leaves

Many trees and plants in the rainforest have adapted by having very large leaves. Because many plants cannot compete with the trees it the race for sunlight they have adapted to make do with the little amount of light they can get. The plants have very large leaves so they can absorb as much sunlight as they can.

Trees have also adapted in the rainforest by growing much higher than types in other parts of the world, and the main reason for this is because of the ongoing struggle for light. From when a tree begins to grow, it is constantly trying to reach for the sun, like if you leave a plant in a dark room, it will grow tall and in the direction of the light. The trees are constantly competing to outgrow each other for more sunlight, which is one of the reasons the rainforest gets the emergent trees, trees that have managed to outgrow all the others and break out of the canopy.

Drip Tips

Besides the buttress roots, the exceptional length trees can get to, the rainforest trees have also adapted to cope with the high and frequent rainfall. The way they have done this is to develop drip tip leaves. Drip tip leaves are leaves with very narrow pointed tips that are used to guide the unwanted water off, they have developed these because if they left the excess moisture on their leaves, with the warm temperatures, fungus and bacteria would soon begin to grow on the leaves, killing them. Besides the drip tips, the leaves also have usually very shiny surfaces with channels that are used to make the water runoff quickly.

Prop and Slit Roots

Prop and Stilt roots are generally found on the type of tree, the mangrove. Mangroves often grow in very moist soil found near rivers or streams flowing through the rainforest. As the ground is very wet and likely of flooding, the mangrove trees have adapted by growing prop and stilt roots which in some ways are similar to buttress roots, they grow above the surface at the base. Unlike buttress roots that are very thick, prop and stilt roots are very thin and needle like. They are used in a similar way to buttress roots because they also grow down from the trunk into the soil trapping the soil and anchoring the tree.

Bark

The bark of the trees has also uniquely adapted to match its environment. In high, dry temperatures the bark of trees has to be very thick to stop moisture escaping, but as that is not the case in the rainforest - although the temperature is very high, it is also very wet and humid - the bark of the trees has adapted so that it loses as much water as it can, as it gets too much, and so the bark of rainforest trees is very thin.

Trees in the rainforest also have a problem with other plants such as lianas which try to grow up them, and strangler figs that grow on them and eventually kill them, which they have adapted to try to avoid. They have developed very smooth barks to try to avoid getting plants growing on them, because if there is no grip on the trees it is difficult for plants to grow on them.

Epiphytes

Epiphytes are a type of plant that can be found everywhere in the rainforest, but they have like mainly developed, like lianas, are to grow on trees and take advantage of the sunlight in the canopy. Orchids, bromeliads, ferns and cacti found in the rainforest are all types of epiphytes but there are also many types of tiny epiphytes such as most mosses, liverworts and linches that are mainly found growing on the surface of leaves.

Nepenthes

These are plants that have adapted by getting their nutrients by eating small insects rather than extracting them from the ground. They are generally referred to as 'pitcher plants' because their leaves are in the form of a jug or pitcher shape. These plants adapted by becoming carnivorous plants which means they eat animals for nutrients and the reason for this is because the soil is so poor for nutrients, this type of plant adapted to eating insects rather than starving. Most nepenthes grow in a similar way to lianas, because although they eat insects they still need sunlight to survive, a few grow like epiphytes and some stay growing on the forest floor.

The leaves of this plant are used to catch the insects and sometimes small animals. The leaves are in the shape of a pitcher because inside them they contain a sweet-smelling nectar which is used to attract the insects. The insides of the leaves are very slippery and once a curious insect is lured inside by the smell of the nectar they lose their grip and fall. There are also downwards-pointing hairs what the insect falls into, that ensure its capture. The insects are digested in order to give the plant nutrients.

Saprophytes

Saprophytes are microscopic plants that are very useful for the nutrient cycle of the rainforest, because they are the main plants that decompose. These plants are extremely efficient at their job and along with a little help from the warth, humidity and insects they can decompose most dead vegetation in under 24 hours. This is very useful for the soil because the heavy rainfall quickly washes nutrients from the soil.

Strangler Fig

These plants have adapted in such a way as they don't have problems for light or nutrients. The strangler fig begins to grow up in the canopy on a tree in a similar way to an epiphyte, where it has been brought by a bird or money that had eaten the fig's fruit. Once it begins to grow, the strangler fig grows long roots down the tree that begin entwining the tree until they reach the ground. The plant grows very quickly and its roots are so strong and tight that they begin suffocating the tree and it eventually dies. This leaves the strangler fig upright on the dead tree, with no problems for getting nutrients or sunlight, a very clever way of adapting.


Because the soil is so poor the plants of the rainforest have had to find many ways of adapting to deal with it. As the nutrients of the soil are washed away or taken in by plants very quickly, it is very important for all dead plants or leaves to be decomposed as quickly as possible, so that the nutrients can be taken back into the ground..

The Nutrients Cycle

The sun and the rain help plants to produce nutrients, but they also have to take up nutrients from the soil. When the leaves fall from the trees and plants they decompose quickly in the top most of the soil called the humus with is only between 2 to 5 centimetres in depth. The rain washes the nutrients in the humus back into the soil where they can be used by the trees however the rain does also wash the nutrients from the soil. The rocks underneath the soil break up to form soil though, and the cycle continues.

The plants and animals of the rainforest have developed a very fragile cycle, in which they couldn't grow without. Because of the canopy, the forest floor is very dark, helping the dead leaves and plants to decompose quickly. The nutrients cycle is very fragile because if you take away one thing out of it, it will break and be destroyed. When deforestation takes place, it creates large areas of dead unfertile land very quickly, because once you take away the canopy, the nutrients are stopped in that area, if deforestation continues, there are great risks that the rainforest will be destroyed forever.

Products of the Rainforest

One reason the rainforest is so important is because we can get so much out of it without even trying. We don't need to chop it all down to earn money, because many products can be found, that can be sold making more money than you would get from the wood anyway.

The products of the rainforest include a whole range of fruits and berries, nuts, medicines, spices, gums and resins and things that can be found in the house. Many fruits and vegetables that you can purchase at your local grocery store are likely to have come from the rainforest including: bananas, coconuts, lemons, limes, mangos, oranges, pineapples and sweet potatoes. Many nuts and beans can be traced back to the rainforest, including brazil nut, coffee beans, cocoa beans (made into chocolate) and macadamia nuts. Plants such as African violets, bromeliads and Christmas Cactus that are found in the rainforest make great household plants. Rubber, varnish, printing ink and chewing gum often come from the rainforest and many medicines are made from rainforest plants. All these products are sustainable, meaning the rainforest can afford to lose them, and these along make more money that logging in the long run.

The global need for plants from the rainforest is amazing. The rainforest is the main supplier of many things we use everyday such as coffee and chocolate, many fine woods, and many other things that we use everyday. Many industries are reliant on the products of the rainforest, such as rubber, hardwood and plastic and everyday we buy products from the rainforest without even knowing it. The rainforest is very important, for all these products, but the longer we keep abusing it for wood and other things that are not sustainable, the more and more likely we are to driving it to extinction, alone with the many products we can get from it.


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Living in the Rainforest.

Besides animals and plants, the rainforests around the world are also home to many different tribes, who known as Indians or Indigenous people. These traditional humans live in harmony with the rainforest, only taking what the rainforest can replenish and they have lived like this for hundreds of thousands of years. There are thought to be approximately 1000 tribes living in rainforests nowadays, these include the Bambuti living in Africa, the Negrito and Senoi living in Malaysia, the Penan living in central Borneo, the Kaypó living in South America and the Waura, the Waorani and Yanomami living in the Amazon rainforest.

Before contact with whites, scientist estimate there were about four million Indians living in the Amazon alone, but these numbers rapidly decreased due to diseases brought by the whites, slavery and aggression of the settlers. The numbers of the Amazon Indian at present is only estimated to be 100,000 but the numbers are still going down. The problems for the Indians are no longer to do with white settlers, but now they are threatened by an ever deadlier problem, deforestation. By chopping down the trees, logging companies are destroying the homes of the Indians, destroying animals and plants, polluting the rivers and tribes find it more and more difficult to find food often leading to starvation.

The Penan Indians

The Penan Indians are a group of nomadic people who live on the islands of Borneo and in the Malasian state of Sarawak. There numbers total approximately ten thousand and they live in various tribes scattered across the rainforest.

The Penan Indians are traditionally hunters, who unlike most other tribes, don't farm any land. They live in large long houses that

can hold up to two hundred people, that are quick and easy built, but only last a few months at the most. The main reason the long houses don't last is because as it is difficult to find and hunt animals in the rainforest, the Indians are constantly having to move their camp to a new and better location. Once the tribe has used their long house they will burn it to the ground and move on.

The Penan diet consists of many wild fruit and vegetables found in the rainforest, but largely it contains meat. They eat a variety of different animals including birds, squirrels, monkeys, lizards, deer but the most sought after animal the Penan eat is the bearded pig. These animals can weigh over a hundred kilos and one will supply the Penan tribe with enough food to last several days. Although there are many animals and plants in the rainforest, it is difficult for the Penan to have a balanced diet because there is not a great amount of carbohydrates. The main source of carbohydrates the Penan gets is from the sago tree which is a type of fast growing palm tree. It is easy enough for the Penan to find these trees because a distinct feature of them is the multiple trunk. One of the main reasons the Penan Indians are nomadic, however, is once they have exhausted the sago trees in one area they can no longer live there because they will get malnourished. To get the starch from the sago tree, the Penan Indians must cut the tree down, but they make sure they take care to leave the smaller shoots for future growth. They cut the tree into sections and take it to the nearest water supply. Once they reach the river or stream they split the sections of the tree and pound the soft pith in the centre into pulp with a mallet. It is placed on a ratten mat and kneeded with water into paste. It is dried over a fire and turned into rich in starch sago flour.

The Penan Indians like most indigenous people living in the rainforests prefer to hunt with the blowpipe rather than any other weapons they have, or modern weapons like guns brought from the outside world. One reason for this is that the blowpipe is much lighter and accurate than the shot gun, and as its darts are made from wood in the forest, the ammunition is easily replaced. The darts of the blowpipe used by the Penan are dipped in a poison called tajem which is made from latex of a type of tree. Tajem interferes with the heart, stopping it beating, and although most animals die instantly from the effects of the poison, some larger animals such as the pig that several minutes for the poison to eventually kill them. In this time, the hunter will silently track the animal so he knows were it falls. Because of using the blowpipe, the Penan have developed large lungs to make the dart fly far and fast.

Besides hunting and gathering, the Penan will also fish for food. They often use a spear to stand in the river and spike any fish they see, but this takes a lot of time and patience, so alternately the Penan have developed many different types of poisons for killing the fish. The poisons are used to contaminate the water to make the fish swim to the surface where they can be caught easily, but also leave the water safe for humans to drink.

The Penan Indians are very superstitious about things around them in their environment. They believe the rainforest is full of spirits and work hard not to anger these spirits because they believe they can bring disaster. They don't chop down the really tall, strong trees or take more than they need from the rainforest because the believe it will anger the spirits. One of the reasons they are nomadic is because of their beliefs. The believe that certain animals or bird cries are omens telling them to move on and if they don't some terrible fate will come and whenever a tribe member dies they also move on. Their believes are one of the ways they don't harm the environment, and they believe if they keep to their believes the rainforest will be protected from disaster and destruction.

From an early age, children are taught to treat each other with respect and to share everything. This is because much of their lifestyle depends upon each other. The Penan rarely shout or quarrel among themselves and although some tasks are the males and others are the females, there is no real difference between the rights of the men and women. Each tribe has a headman who acts as a spokesperson for the tribe, but he has no power over other members of the tribe. The Penan rarely, however, get on with neighbouring tribes. Each tribe has clear territory, although they move around a lot. They don't go into the boundaries of another tribes territory because it often causes trouble and fights, but generally the Penan get on very well together and have been living like this for thousands of years.
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The Indians of the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is found in nine different countries located in South America: Brazil, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Suriname, Columbia, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia, but sixty-two percent of it alone is located in Brazil. There are about a thousand different groups of Indians found in the vast area of this rainforest, but three of the main ones are Waura, Waorani and Yanomami and their numbers make up approximately 100,000 which is a pitiful number compared to the approximated 4 million living there before the 16th century and contact with white settlers.

The life of these Indians is a mixture of hunting, fishing, gathering wild fruits and berries and agriculture. To grow crops, the Indians use a method called 'slash and burn'. Because the nutrients cycle of the rainforest is so easily broken, once the Indians have chopped down trees to create fields or gardens where they grow things, the ground easily looses nutrients, so they often burn the trees in the area they wish to cultivate because the ashes give the ground more nutrients. Even so after about 5 years at the most the Indians have to move on and create a new field to grow crops in because the soil becomes unusable. Another method of farming the Indians of the Amazon use is called rotational farming. Rotational farming is having several fields, but only using a few for several years while you give the other fields chance to regain their nutrients. Once the fields you are using are out of nutrients, you use the other fields and are continuously swapping the fields on a rotation.

The main crop the Indians grow is called manioc, which if eaten straight from the field is poisonous. The Indians use tipitis to remove the poison from the manioc. A tipiti is a cylinder shaped press made of tough vines. Watered manioc is placed in the tipiti and the poison is squeezed out. The pulp is left to dry, is then mixed with water to create a white paste and pressed into flat pancake shaped loaves. Besides manioc the Indians also grow maize, yams, groundnuts and bananas.

The Amazon Indians gather a variety of different plants, fruits and berries from the rainforest, but they also gather wild honey and wild spices such as peppers. As there are plenty of rivers and streams found, with the River Amazon and all it's tributaries, fish are easy to find. The Amazon Indian's diet consists of lots of different types of fish, including Pirarucu, a fish that can grow over 2.5 meters, Catfish that can weigh over 180 kilograms and even deadly Piranhas. The Indians use many methods for catching the fish including: bows and arrows, spears, nets, traps and even poisons, similar to those used by the Penan.

For hunting, the traditional weapon the Amazon Indians use, like the Penan, is the blowpipe. They can hit targets at 35 meters away, and the darts are swift and silent. The Amazon Indians, unlike the Penan, often tip their darts with a type of poison called Curare. Once the animal is hit with the poison it's muscles relax, causing it to suffocate, loose grip and fall to the forest floor. Curare is made from the lianas that grow in the Amazon rainforest, it's roots and steams are crushed and cooked with the venom of other animals found in the rainforest until it becomes a black sticky substance and is used to coat the tips of the darts. Besides blowpipes, the Indians also have many other ways of hunting and catching animals but the mainly by using traps or snares, spears or arrows.

The Indians use fire quite regularly as they often use the slash and burn method to cultivate the land. They use fire to cook their food, either for baking, grilling or roasting, and in places with good clay, they have also developed pottery which comes in useful for containers of many sorts including for cooking in. In areas without clay, they often use shells from animals, such as the turtle, for cooking in. Animals like the armadillo is often cooked in its shell.

The Amazon Indians don't have metal, and stone is very rare and difficult to find under the masses of roots, but the Indians have found many other materials to replace these which are equally as useful. Instead of having metal tips of their arrows, the Amazon Indians use very hard wood that grows in the rainforest, such as the Chonta palm. The same woods are used to make nails to hold timber together, or in areas where these woods are rare, they use the bark of trees or lianas as thongs for binding timber together.

The Amazon Indians are expert weavers, even though they often don't wear clothes. They don't need clothes as they live in such a hot and humid climate and clothes become very quickly drenched in sweat and water hung in the atmosphere, some tribes do where clothes, but the only reason for this is because of western influences. They use cotton to weave, either grown in gardens or found in the wild, into many different things including hammocks, slings and waistbands. The also weave bark to create items such as baskets and bowls that can be made waterproof with sap from many trees.

The Amazon Indians houses are traditionally simple. Being made of wood with a thatch roof, they are good for the nomadic way of life of the Amazon Indians because they can be discarded easily, once the tribe needs to move on. They often live on one large house, that can often hold several hundred if necessary, although tribes often aren't much bigger than fifty. These houses or 'yano' as the Yanomami Indians call them, have no walls on the inside, but a certain space is given to each family to live in and each family has their own fire that they will sit around. Families are often very large, because they are all considered to be of the same family even if they are only very distantly related, but is important to live together as it is with the Penan, because it essential for survival. There is little furniture inside the house, as they are outside most of the day and sleep on mats or raised platform beds - though generally hammocks used nowadays. The house is often raised up above the ground, if not for anything else, to keep the insects of the forest out and underneath it they often keep animals, such as pigs.

The Amazon Indians believe in magic and spirits and ceremonies play a big part in their lives. They have many festivals related to the many things all around them, the sun and moon, the seasons, the fertilisation of plants to continue growing and reproducing, birth and more importantly death. They believe strongly in spirits and the supernatural 'mysteries' of the rainforest and their environment. In the special times of festival, they try to make their bodies look as beautiful as possible, on way being by paining themselves in forest dyes. They love to paining themselves, some because if they aren't they feel very naked - a feeling that probably comes from western influences - they also paint themselves to attract each other, mothers send their children to sleep by painting them and they often paint their children's faces to show affection.

The Amazon Indians have a similar belief to the Penan that it is important to keep in peace with the spirits, otherwise they will bring disaster. To stay at peace with the spirits, the Amazon Indians use the Shaman. A Shaman is the most important person in a tribe, but anyone can become one if they wish to go under difficult and frightening ceremonies. A Shaman will use his powers to prevent storms, bring success in hunts and to ward of evil spirits sent by enemy tribes. He can also create spirits to send to enemy tribes to cause damage and disaster for them. In the tribe, his main task is to cure the sick but to heal he has to ask the help of the spirits. The Shamans use many different types of plants from the forest to cure the ill, the leaves of the Jacaranda is is used to treat snake bites and Quinine bark from the Cinchona is used to treat various illnesses including: malaria, eye infections and stomach aches. The Shamans use native drugs to create hallucinations or visions, which they used several times a week, but because they have control over the use of the drugs, they don't suffer any side effects.

Children grow up surrounded by love and attention from all the family and they learn the skills for the future by watching and imitating. At about the age of eight boys are allowed to use their father's blowgun to practice at hunting. The Amazon Indians live in harmony with each other, although they often don't get on with other tribes. They have been living in this way for thousands of years and have never done any permanent damage to the rainforest with their slash and burn agriculture, but their numbers like all other tribes of indigenous people are declining.

Because of mining, oil and gas extraction and mainly logging, the size of the rainforests are becoming smaller and smaller. The tribes are having to compete for the limited resources left, even the methods of farming they have used for so long are damaging the fragile cycle of nutrients and many tribes have died out from starvation and others are no longer nomadic and have adapted to a lifestyle more like the whites.


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Why are the Rainforests being destroyed?

The Rainforest is such an amazing place, a habitat for so many different plants and animals all living in harmony, but yet it is being destroyed. The name given to the destruction is deforestation, which basically means to destroy of damage the forest, in this case the rainforest. It is estimated that 2.5 acres of rainforest is destroyed every second, and that a species becomes extinct every second due to the deforestation. Almost half the world's rainforests have already been destroyed and scientists estimate if we do not stop the deforestation,
we will have completely destroyed the rainforest before the year 2030. But the problem is there are many reasons why deforestation is occurring, and the blame cannot be pinned on one group of people, as there are so many different reasons to do with so many different people, even we in Britain play a small part in the destruction.

There are different ways that deforestation takes place, the main ways are burning, cutting and stepping, but out of the three, burning is most deadly. By setting fire to the rainforest, all that is in the way of the flames, whether it be plant or animal, gets destroyed, until the fire is put out. There is also a danger of the fire getting out of control, so those who started it cannot put it out. If this happens the effects can be catastrophic, the flame will continue growing stronger and stronger, destroying everything in its path until it is eventually put out, either by firefighters or the rain storms. The smoke the fire leaves behind is a problem in itself, the huge amounts of smoke will kill all the plants and animals nearby and can cause many breathing problems and illnesses to those who inhale it.

Cutting is probably the most common form of deforestation. Chopping the trees down will not only kill all plant life the tree hits as it falls and hits the ground, but it will also kill all animal life living in that tree. People who chop trees are often loggers, but these people usually only look for a specific tree, and as the rainforest is so wild, one tree might be growing miles from the next of its species, so as they search for that one tree they destroy miles of rainforest on the way. Felled trees leave stumps which is why not many people who wish to use the ground for something use this method of deforestation but instead prefer to use the burning technique, ignoring the consequences.

The Rainforest is so fragile, that by even stepping on one plant you could destroy a large section of it because of breaking the nutrient's cycle. This is why large areas of rainforest are destroyed just by loggers searching for their one tree, because they will ride through the rainforest on their heavy machinery, not just stepping on plants, but crushing every plant in their path.

There are many different people who are responsible for part of the deforestation, these include cattle ranchers, gold miners, oil extracting, loggers and construction of Hydroelectric dams and roads.

One reason the rainforest is being destroyed is to clear land for cattle ranching. This is specifically a problem for the Amazon rainforest and about thirty-eight percent of deforestation that takes place in the Amazon is due to cattle ranching. Large areas of land are cleared for cattle ranching, where grass is grown in large pastures used to feed cattle. By clearing the land of the rainforest, ranchers can get land for cheaper meaning they can have a larger area of land, grow more cattle to sell and gain more money. This is useful for the poor people of these countries because they do not have the money to afford large areas to keep cattle, but it is very bad for the environment as so much rainforest is being destroyed. However, there is another problem with clearing the land for pastures, not only for the environment, but also for the rancher, because, although for the first year the soil is fine and plenty of grass grows, as the years go on, the grass becomes thinner and thinner, because the nutrient's cycle is broken and few nutrients are getting to the soil of the pasture, until after about six years the ground is completely useless for anything, so the rancher has to move on, buy some more cheap land and destroy more of the rainforest.

Commercial farmers are on of the increasing concerns for the rainforest. These are farmers who often do not live in the rainforest, but grow crops there, as the the land is cheap, to sell. The main crops they grow are cotton, sugarcane and soy products, but they often use the slash and burn method to clear and fertilise the land so they can grow these crops. But not only is clearing the rainforest the threat from these farmers, but also because they are well-off, they can afford to use chemical fertilises and weed killers, which can badly damage the rainforest rainforest nearby. Although these farmers try to hold on to their land for as long as possible, by first burning, it then using weed killers, it makes little difference to the life of their fields. Eventually the fields run out of nutrients, and so the commercial farmers have to move on, destroying and damaging another area of the rainforest.

Another reason for the destruction of the rainforest is due to the gold that can be found in some areas of the Amazon rainforest. The gold was discovered in the 1980's, in large quantities, and thousands of gold miners came, hoping to become rich. The problem was that the rainforest was in the way, so large areas of rainforest was destroyed, by burning or by chopping the trees. Not only is this a problem, but the gold miners were also using mercury to extract the gold, polluting the rivers and streams. Mercury is deadly for a whole range of insects, birds and fish, and so many were killed. Not only was this just in the rainforest, but gold was also found in Mato Grosso, Roraima, Rondonia and Acre, leading to similar effects.

A lesser reason for the deforestation that takes place is due to oil extraction, where companies trick the people of the rainforest into giving them their land so they can search for and extract oil, specifically petroleum. To get to the oil, the companies have to clear areas of land and dig it up until they reach the oil. With large heavy machinery such as the oil pumps, not only is the rainforest getting destroyed by the companies clearing the land, but also as they bring in the equipment.

Loggers often try to blame people from rich countries and places like Britain for the destruction, and in a way what they say is true. One of the reasons loggers chop down trees is so they can be sold and manufactured into expensive furniture. If people in the richer countries weren't willing to buy this expensive furniture, the loggers would have no one to sell the wood to which would put them out of business. One piece of furniture made from pure rainforest tree will contain at least four trees, no matter how big, and although this might not sound a great amount, the loggers probably destroyed acres of land just to reach those four trees. If no one bought furniture made from rainforest wood a lot less rainforest would be destroyed.

A new problem for the Amazon rainforest are hydroelectric dams. These are a cheaper alternative for creating electricity, using the river Amazon to power the dams. The problem occurs in building the dams because around the area of the river where the dam is built, large areas of rainforest are cleared to make way for the dam, and a lot of vegetation is damaged in the process of making with the machinery. Several dams have been build, but yet these few have been the cause of destruction to several thousand hectares of rainforest. Not only has the creation of these dams destroyed rainforest, it has lead to flooding, killing many Indians living nearby and it has also killed much of the wildlife and fish living in and around where the dam has been built. In future Brazil plans to build more dams, which will mean more destruction and very possibly, more flooding.




This page was created by Elizabeth Taylor, 8W, Kirk Balk School.
Last revised: 10th June 2004.
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